1908, right? I mean, that’s reason enough right there, isn’t it? The next closest team in baseball with that kind of futility is the Cleveland Indians, who have been waiting for a World Series title since 1948. But, for those who don’t believe in “curses” or that kind of extended bad “luck,” there is an expectation that at some point, the streak is going to end. Especially the way the league continues to strive to find ways to create parity within the game.
So, maybe this is the year, right? After all, this Cubs team looks really good on paper. They have the best team ERA in baseball (3.09), which includes the best starting rotation ERA in baseball (2.92 – better by more than half a run than anyone else!). They have the best team WHIP in baseball (1.11). They have scored the 2nd most runs in the NL (709), behind only the thin-air-induced run-scoring of the Rockies. They have the best OBP in the NL (.341 – 2nd only to the Red Sox in all of baseball), are 2nd only to St. Louis in the NL in OPS (.767). They have Cy Young candidates (Arrieta, Lester, Hendricks), they have MVP candidates (Rizzo & Bryant), and they have legitimate Gold Glove worthy defense at 3 positions (Rizzo at 1B, Russell at SS, and Heyward in RF).
Add to all this the fact that they went out and got a flamethrowing closer in Aroldis Chapman to bolster their bullpen, and it just seems like a great team, top to bottom. But, as we have seen many times over the years – once you reach October baseball, all bets are off. The regular season records and stats are practically meaningless. So, the purpose of this post (and hopefully others like it), is to take a look at some of the finer details of the team, and consider what has the potential to be their downfall in the postseason. For the Cubs, let’s take a look at 3 things…
1. Record Against Better Teams
While the Cubs do possess 90+ wins already, and are near to clinching the division with almost 3 weeks left in the season, those numbers are at least a little inflated. 32 of their wins (and just 11 losses!) have come against the bottom 3 teams in their division – Pirates, Brewers, and Reds – all of whom are below .500. In fact, when you look at the other 5 teams in the NL that are competing for a playoff spot – Nationals, Dodgers, Giants, Mets, and Cardinals – the Cubs are a combined 21-20. That isn’t exactly blowing away the competition. And, it should be reason enough for Cub fans to curb their enthusiasm at least a little.
2. Stolen Bases
The secret is out on the Cubs’ pitching staff – you can run on them. Granted, they may not allow a ton of baserunners. But, when they do . . . watch out. There are only 3 NL teams that have allowed more stolen bases – the Braves, Padres and Rockies. That’s three teams that aren’t anywhere close to making a run at the playoffs. And, the other secret that’s out – aggressive baserunning can be the difference between scoring a run, and stranding a runner at 3rd. Particularly in the playoffs, when you expect to be facing some of the toughest pitchers in the game. Just look at the Royals and the Giants the last couple years. Both were teams that put the ball in play, and put the pressure on the defense with their baserunning. A team that gets really aggressive against the Cubs, could reak havoc.
3. Clutch Hitting
One of the most important ingredients for success in October is a team’s ability to keep pressuring the pitching and defense of the other team. So, even when there are two outs, hitters aren’t giving away at-bats. And, when there are two outs, with a runner in scoring position, you must take advantage of the opportunity in playoff baseball. Unfortunately, the Cubs rank 11th in the NL, and 25th in baseball, in batting average with RISP and 2 outs (.216). Much of this is a product of their youth, and their tendency to be eager-swingers. This could come back to haunt you in the Fall.
The Cubs look like a very good team. But, when you dig a little deeper into the numbers, there is reason to hold off on buying those World Series tickets – at least, for now.